Katharine Sarikakis: Regulation and media-usage

Since February 2011 Katharine Sarikakis holds the professorship for Media- and Communication Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Prior to her affiliation with the University of Vienna she held tenured positions in the UK. Various visiting fellowships made her travel around the globe.

"After many years as a tenured academic in the UK and several experiences at universities outside Europe, the University of Vienna was primarily appealing because of its strategy to internationalize, and because of its openness. Moreover, it is one of the major European institutions and has the glamour of historical universities like Oxford University", Katharine Sarikakis, a British/Greek citizen, explains her connection to her new "home". The scholar considers the city itself to be "humane enough for its inhabitants while being vibrant and cosmopolitan".

Career path

Sarikakis's career started in 1989 in Athens, Greece, where she studied journalism and worked as a journalist, programme producer and presenter for radio stations. She read for a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communications Studies and Politics at the University of Wolverhampton on a Lychnos scholarship, awarded by the Athens Union of Journalists. From 1995 to 1997 she completed a "Magistra" in Communication Science, Sociology and Political Science at Freie Universität Berlin. Before even finishing her studies in Germany, she was offered a full scholarship to read for a PhD in Public Administration and Communication at Glasgow Caledonian University. Between 1997 and 2001 the expert in media governance wrote her doctoral thesis about the role of the European Parliament in the formation of media policies at the University of Glasgow. From 1999 she has held fully tenured positions at Coventry Universities and from 2004 at the University of Leeds, one of the 24 leading universities in the UK (Russell Group Universities). There she directed the Centre for International Communication Research and was in charge of departmental and faculty level PhD programmes and their recognition by the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

Society at the very moment

The British educational approach to knowledge and scientific enquiry has left an imprint on her own. She explains: "I got to know the importance of asking very specific questions and striving to be on the cutting-edge of research. It is crucial to address what is going on in society at present. The approach to teaching, which is coming from a place of great care and transparency, is the other thing that I learned to value in the UK." During those years she has been visiting research fellow/professor in Canada, Japan, China and Sweden, before taking up her Chair at the University of Vienna in February 2011.

A regulatory framework for media

In 2011 the new professor – who is also chair of the Communication Law and Policy Section of the European Communication Research and Education Association – established the Media Governance and Industries research team that brings together scholars who research policies and politics of media, culture and communication. The research area examines the factors that construct a regulatory framework: laws, ideas and values, stakeholders. "It is fascinating, because our lives are saturated with media. A lot of what we do involves screens – mobile phones, computers, television sets. How regulation in various forms and on various levels, politically and economically, affects the way we use media, is something I'm deeply interested in", the new professor emphasises. She has consulted with various international organisations, such as the Council of Europe and UNESCO and national governments such as the UK home office to translate the result of her research into governance knowledge and she is working in the same way here in Vienna too.

Media, freedom and "the crisis"

Her research focuses on the ways in which emerging policy regimes, such as copyright and privacy, ownership of media and media labour, intersect to impact the conditions under which citizens use and "make" media and communication content. These convergences of policy especially in the digital domain impact on individual freedoms. Her research explores these dimensions taking into account both human rights and ethical issues. Another topic the research team is currently dealing with is "media and the financial crisis". The team looks at narratives and understandings of the crisis that are circulated by the media. Some of the questions posed include the following: Do the media frame it as a localised financial crisis or, more so, a crisis of European integration and identity, a crisis with global implication and rooted in specific conditions and narratives? Is it easier for the media to handle this situation when framed as a local problem and what does this tell us about lessons un-learned about the European history of war, memory and cultural encounters? This research field does not only concern her as a scholar, but also on a more "personal" level as a Greek citizen and convinced European: "I get angry when I read superficial slogans and easy-to-digest-stories that degrade their readers by presenting them with simplistic versions of such important events. When this happens, it is very loud and visible. Freedom of the press does not mean freedom without responsibility!"

Aims in teaching

Sarikakis is convinced that teaching has to be research-led and should aim at inspiring curiosity in students. She tries to communicate the relevance of the subject to their everyday lives. "I hope that my being here also gives students a more international understanding of academia. I hope they see that there are no boundaries in academia and knowledge", the co-editor of the International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics finishes.

Inaugural lecture

On Thursday, 11 October 2012, Katharine Sarikakis will hold her Inaugural Professorial Lecture. She will discuss questions of political transparency in the decision-making processes that shape our media and communication. She will bring examples from global events, such as in the area of copyright, privacy and freedom of expression. (dh)

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Katharine Sarikakis, Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the Department of Communication, holds her Inaugural Lecture "Due process? Challenges, change and continuity in Global Media Governance" on Thursday, 11 October 2012, 6 pm, in the Main Ceremonial Chamber.